KOLKATA: This must be a palace, look at the pillars and this magnificent
hall… And what are these notebooks for? A test on Braj Bhasa, surely…
It was a day of surprises and exploration for the 50 Virndavan widows
who are cherishing a once-in-a-lifetime experience to inaugurate pujas in Kolkata. They mistook Grand Hotel for a 'rajbari' and took the writing pads in the conference room as a test of their knowledge of the language spoken in Vrindavan
, which they have recently started learning.
The ballroom of the Grand – where Sulabh International had scheduled a press conference – looked like an examination hall. The women
were intrigued by the writing pads left on each chair until someone reasoned that they were perhaps expected to copy the sentence printed on a banner that hung on a wall. The women, in spotless white sarees, hung their jholas across the chairs and started their 'exam'.
There was near pindrop silence but for the scratching of pen on paper as the widows – aged between 70 and 104 years – diligently started filling up the pages with beautiful handwriting, each eager to show how well she had learnt a new language at such an old age.
Their innocence was moving. For a while no one had the heart to tell them that no one expected them to prove anything.
"These widows are being taught alphabets in Vrindavan. Their interest in learning, their earnestness, and perseverance is surprising and inspiring. They do it with childlike sincerity," said Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh, which has flown the widows to Kolkata.
Some of the women visited the swimming pool. A hotel boy, who had never come across such visitors, had a confused smile as he reached out to help 88-year-old Kanan Dasi, who was trying to touch the "blue water". Garobini Sil, 76, looked around in awe and was heard asking Basana Devi, the youngest of them: "Wonder whose palace this is!"
They were touching everything in the reception , lobby or in the corridors. Some of them looked wonderstruck at the orchids, saying aloud that they looked so pretty that they couldn't be genuine flowers. During lunch hours, none of them cared for the spoon and fork except for 104-year-old Lalita Devi showed surprising skill in handling both.
In the morning, they were taken to Kumartuli, where 91-year-old Manu Ghosh suddenly started weeping non-stop on seeing the near-finished Durga idols glowing in the soft early morning light. The other widows stood perplexed at the emotional outburst – they had always seen her a stubborn, robust personality.
On Tuesday, the widows will be at Singhi Park Puja which will be inaugurated by Mamata Banerjee. The pandal is a replica of Govinda Ashram in Vrindavan. From there, they will visit Birla temple. "We will probably take them on a Metro ride as well," said one of the organizers.